Published on October 27th, 2014 | by Lauren McPhee0
The Legend of Korra – The Calling review
Another isolated episode, The Calling focuses on the Airbender kids’ search for Korra while she continues her recovery with Toph in the swamp. Although light on action, we get a really good look at the aged-up siblings in a mini journey that recalls many of the Gaang’s adventures, as well as a round-up of the show’s overarching themes and villains brought about through the spiritual influence of the swamp. As the name suggests, in this episode Milo, Ikki and Jirora bring the call to adventure that Korra must accept in order to stand against Kuvira in the coming conflict.
The story opens on Tenzin and Pema somewhat reluctantly seeing their kids off on their mission to find the Avatar, but as Ikki reminds them, Aang and his friends weren’t much older when they travelled the world alone. Milo is particularly enthusiastic about the prospect of living off the land and attempts to refuse the food his mother has prepared for them. He shows his age, however, when offered his favourite treat and then complains he can’t eat it because the painted on smiley-face is smudged. Now that we’re accustomed to a much older cast of characters in Korra, the Airbender kids’ youth and naiveté is a touching throwback to the cast of the original series.
Milo, Ikki and Jinora thus head out across the Earth Kingdom, visiting spiritual sites, towns and villages in their search for Korra. Jinora, acting as leader, attempts to use her spiritual powers to tap into Korra’s energy. Milo and Ikki, meanwhile, present townspeople with a picture of Korra that Milo has drawn. Tensions between the three of them start to rise when they fail to have any success in locating Korra. When Milo throws away their supplies and Jinora isolates herself to meditate, Ikki storms off feeling left out by the other two and gets captured by two of Kuvira’s soldiers, who have been left behind by the army headed towards Zao Fu. Bonding with her captors, the soldiers lay out a map giving Ikki the idea that Korra might be in the swamp, before she is rescued by her siblings.
While on their mission, the kids encounter a number of characters and situations reminiscent of the original series. There’s sibling conflict and arguments over leadership; Milo’s excellent drawing of Korra in contrast to Sokka’s more abstract artistic skills; the tradesman with the piercings who evokes the pirate traders; and the flower girl Milo falls for, who shares a likeness with Meng from The Fortuneteller. Furthermore, featuring Aang’s grandchildren, this episode seems full of little details that remind us of the larger world the show inhabits, and its grand history.
Toph and Korra’s interactions share in this legacy as Korra asks Toph to recollect the stories of the Gaang’s epic adventures. Toph’s recollections, however, fall far short of the true scope of events which adds to the subtly with which history is being remembered. Korra tells Toph she’s bad at telling stories, to which Toph responds that Korra is bad at listening to them. This could be a comment made against those who insist on comparing the grand, overarching narrative of Avatar negatively to the shorter, series arcs of Korra, making Korra out to be the more inferior show. If so, there is a sense in this episode that we should be listening carefully to the story being told and not resting on our expectations of the original series.
Then, as Korra is sent out to search for mushrooms for dinner, she is faced with visions of times her enemies have hurt her. Overwhelmed by memories of her past experiences, Toph explains that the spiritual energy of the swamp is trying to force Korra to confront her issues in order that she may heal from them. Toph leads Korra to the Banyan Grove Tree, a huge tree with roots spread out throughout the swamp, and tells Korra she’s disconnected. The feeling of separation that has carried over the past four episodes seems to be culminating at this point, pushing Korra to reconnect with her loved ones, remove the lingering metal from her body, restore her Avatar self, and return to her place in the world.
For many viewers, this episode might feel slow, low on action and removed from the larger plot of Kuvira taking control of the Earth Kingdom as her own empire. Those are fair criticisms if you feel the need for shows to be bound by strict rules of conventions delineating plot, structure and character development. These are the criticisms I find most often levelled against Korra. However, I get the sense that the creators, being aware of this, have set out to do something very different in the development of this series. In many ways, Korra means to defy our expectations, and far from being poorly structured, the isolated characters and episodes of the early season are structurally being used to highlight Korra’s self-exile from action and her friends.
Korra is very aware of its lineage, and its production process has been a difficult one, and not wanting to separate itself from Avatar, The Legend of Korra needs to distinguish itself as its own show. For that reason, I don’t think it’s necessary to be a fan of the original series to enjoy Korra, or to recognise it as the compelling, impressive piece of work that it is. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t try to force new viewers to watch the original series first, because Korra is different but also amazing in its own right. Episodes like The Calling are proof of that and viewers should be paying attention.